Saige MaxvillePhoto Submitted

Saige Maxville credits her culture with helping her in her battle against cancer.

Saige Maxville takes on cancer with a tvshka spirit

By Kendra Germany-Wall
November 1, 2023

Tvshka, war·ri·or
1. (especially in former times) a brave or experienced soldier or fighter.

Saige Maxville, a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, by all definitions, is a warrior. She is a dream chaser, a vibrant light of positivity.

But Saige has been on a complex medical journey that few would ever suspect.

In 2012, Saige had her first noticeable seizure.

Her mother took her to see the doctor, and as there was no obvious reason for the seizure, they decided it was an isolated incident.

According to the Clevland Clinic, up to 11% of the U.S. population will have at least one seizure in their lifetime, so without an identifiable cause, the doctor wasn’t concerned at the time.

MRIs showed nothing of concern, and in every other way, Saige was physically healthy. She was diagnosed with epilepsy, a disorder that, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, 1 in 26 people develops in their lifetime.

She continued to have a relatively normal childhood.

“I did the normal things that a girl would do. Dance, cheerleading, gymnastics,” said Maxville.

However, the seizures continued and worsened.

When Saige transferred to an adult neurologist, an MRI revealed that Saige had a brain tumor.

The doctor believed the tumor to be non-cancerous and suggested monitoring it for a while.

According to the National Institute of Health, about 71% of all brain tumors are benign.

Once Saige turned 20, her seizure activity increased, and the neurologist ordered another MRI.

The tumor had grown, and Saige was referred to a neurosurgeon., who confirmed that the brain tumor was slow-growing and appeared benign.

However, within a few months, Saige was experiencing daily seizures.

Another MRI was ordered, and the neurologist urged her to schedule an appointment with her neurosurgeon immediately.

The neurosurgeon confirmed that the tumor was rapidly growing and that it needed to be removed.

Saige and her medical team entered surgery thinking that the tumor was benign. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

October 15, 2020, a month after surgery, Saige and her family were told it was malignant.

The news was shocking to everyone involved in her case.

“I’ve never seen a doctor shed a tear before until I saw my neurosurgeon tell me that I had cancer,” said Saige. “He truly believed that it was benign just looking at it on a screen.”

Saige was referred to an oncologist and radiologist, where she was told that her tumor was a glioblastoma grade IV, a fast-growing and aggressive cancer with an average survival time of 12-18 months.

Saige Maxville
Submitted Photo

Maxville's family was a big support for her during her health battle and continue to root her on in her pursuit of her dreams.

Saige and her family were advised to do everything they wanted to do together while they had time. However, Saige refused to stop fighting.

Being diagnosed was shocking, but Saige knew she could not let it stop her.

“I didn’t let it take over my life. That is one thing that I wanted to make sure of because I was not guaranteed that I would live past 15 months to two years,” explained Saige. “So I was not even guaranteed to survive; therefore, I knew that I couldn’t let this take over my life. I did everything I could to fight it.”

Saige was referred to OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center neuro-oncologist James Battiste, M.D., for a second opinion.

The first thing Dr. Battiste and his team did was re-assess the tumor sample slides.

They deduced it was either an epithelioid glioblastoma (WHO Grade IV) or a pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma —most likely a combination. Molecular testing revealed a mutation called BRAF V600E, meaning they could target the tumor cells with two specific inhibitors against that mutation.

Saige’s particular brain tumor was rare, and treatment was aggressive, leaving Saige with debilitating side effects.

Following the six-week treatment, Saige continued with a maintenance dose of chemotherapy for another 12 months.

Saige did beat cancer. Victory came when she rang the bell for cancer survivors at Stephenson Cancer Center.

Saige attributes her strength and power to her culture.

“I was already connected to my culture before I was diagnosed with cancer, I was raised that way. Going through treatment, diving deeper into my culture, attending ceremonies more often,” Saige said. “Doing more things that had to do with being Choctaw and southeastern in general is something that really helped. Getting more connected with my roots as an Indigenous person.”

However, as an Indigenous person, losing her hair was the most devastating side effect.

“To a lot of Native American cultures, our hair is so important,” explained Saige. “It is an extension of our ancestors and to lose something so important to you is traumatizing. We did a special hair burning ceremony —my family and I —as we didn’t want that hair to go to waste. We wanted to give it back to the creator.”

Following the six-week treatment, Saige continued with a maintenance dose of chemotherapy for another 12 months.

Saige did beat cancer and her moment of victory came when she rang the bell for cancer survivors at Stephenson Cancer Center.

During her battle with cancer, Saige continued to peruse her dreams.

“I graduated from college with my associate in history from TCC. During the most aggressive parts of treatment, I walked across that stage with a big smile on my face and grabbed that diploma. I was so happy and proud of myself,” Saige said.

Saige has dreams of becoming a history teacher and is working on her bachelor’s from Northeastern Oklahoma State University. She hopes to teach students about factual Native American history.